Getting Things Done With Dendron and VS Code — First Look

Last week, I wrote an article about Getting Things Done (GTD) using VS Code, and one of my smart colleagues suggested I take a look at the Dendron extension. I’ve been using this extension fairly heavily since then. I’ve also been figuring out how I want to integrate it into a GTD workflow. Since Friday is the day that I’ve set aside for my “weekly review” and I just completed the first one, I thought I’d take a moment to share my thoughts about Dendron VSCode.

The Good

  • Cmd-L (Or Ctrl-L on Windows). This brings up the lookup window, which is by far Dendron’s coolest feature. I can look up an existing note or create a new one from the keyboard, instantly. Once in the lookup window, I can choose “Create New” or type a few letters of what I’m looking for, a down arrow or two, and BAM! I’m there. So if I want to review something — my inbox or next-actions pages, for example — I can do it in about 3 seconds.
  • The information hierarchy. Dendron files are simple markdown that you can organize any way you like by filename. For example, for getting things done, I have several files in the pattern project.[project-name].md files. This article, similarly, was originally drafted as: “writing.getting-things-done-dendron-first-look.md”.
  • Dendron supports wiki style links [[link]], with intelligent lookup there too. If I wanted to link to my inbox from for example I can type the first two brackets + in, hit enter to select it, and done!
  • Great tagging support. Just enter a hashtag, for example: “#some-category”. Dendron will treat that as a document – tags.some-category.md. All by itself, a whole blank document for a tag sounds pretty silly, but Dendron’s backlink view means that if you’re in that document you can follow the links to whatever documents are tagged that way.

After a while, this system of linked information really does start to feel like the interconnected neurons in a second brain. And there you have the origin of the name “Dendron” as well.

The Bad

  • My initial new user experience with Dendron was pretty dismal, but I tried to reproduce it a moment ago, and it looks like an update pushed two days ago took care of some of that. It looks like Dendron now can either set up a global style “Second Brain” or integrate well into your existing VS Code project. I’ve since added a Dendron “vault” (folder) to an existing project I have for my coding course development, and that worked quite well. So this was a really needed update. Still, it’s prudent that you make such changes on a git branch or the like, or otherwise back up your work before you add Dendron.
  • The calendar view is not easy to navigate. Today for my weekly review I had to add some appointments to next month, and it was more of a chore than it needed to be. An easy way to add a new “daily.journal.[date].md” file (calendar entry) from the command palette or look up “today” would be a great addition! For me that’s not a deal-breaker, as I don’t often schedule things, but if your use case relies heavily on scheduling or appointments or the like (managers, salespeople, etc.), Dendron is not best suited to the task.

The Indifferent

Dendron has support for schemas. I haven’t yet found them useful yet, since they seemed a bit heavy to set up for my needs at this point. However, if you really want to describe and organize the hierarchical structure I mentioned above, schemas are the way to do it.

Overall Impressions

If you’re a VS Code user already and want to organize your notes and projects in an intuitive way, get Dendron — it’s absolutely awesome. Except for a few rough edges, I am really a fan. I’m writing this post in a Dendron-enabled project now, for example, so that should tell you something. It also supports a “Getting Things Done” workflow extremely well. However, you will have to spend a little time thinking about how you want to set up contexts, projects, and the like, as Dendron is not a dedicated GTD tool.

Try It Yourself

Like all Visual Studio Code Extensions, you can browse and install the extension in the usual way. Simply browse for “dendron” and install it. You can read about Dendron on the Dendron Wiki.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.